Media savvy single mum immersed in te reo Māori

27 July 2018

Joanne O'Brien

Single parent Joanne O’Brien was enjoying a successful media career when a long-held yearning to speak te reo Māori saw her return to university. Now she is enrolled in Te Tohu Paetahi (Diploma in Māori and Indigenous Studies - Te Reo Māori), and one of two recipients of the 2018 Waikato Alumni Scholarship.

Jo, of Ngāti Pūkeko, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Manawa, Whakatōhea, Te Arawa and Tūhoe descent, is already sharing knowledge with her three-year-old daughter to support her understanding of te reo Māori as well. Keen to move into a role within education or explore opportunities with iwi or government organisations, Jo sees the acquisition of te reo Māori as a vital skill to have.

“I believe the language is key to Te Ao Māori and I hope it will help me to contribute more to my whānau and community,” says Jo.

The busy mum is working part-time while studying and is grateful to have the financial stress eased by the Alumni Scholarship. She’s also received grants from the Ngāti Manawa Charitable Trust and the Whakatōhea Trust Board and appreciates the iwi support.

School of Graduate Research Dean, Professor Kay Weaver is pleased to see Waikato alumni returning to continue their study journey with the University. “The recipients of this year’s Waikato Alumni Scholarship were very deserving and it’s wonderful to have them as part of our University community again,” she says.

It’s been a few years since Jo last tread the study path on the University of Waikato’s Hamilton campus. In 1993 she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and History and then completed a Diploma of Journalism at Wellington Polytechnic. She's spent most of her working life as a reporter and producer for Radio New Zealand, TVNZ, TV3 and print media, and had a stint in London and Ireland as a journalist.

After years away working in Auckland, Wellington and abroad, Jo felt isolated when she returned to Hamilton with her young daughter. Seeing a need in the community, she helped set up and organise a support group for single mothers. Once she had built her ‘village’ Jo felt she was better placed to fulfil her dream of returning to study.

After hearing about Te Tohu Paetahi’s great reputation from past graduates Jo says it was a no-brainer to enrol in the intensive one-year immersion programme at her alma mater, Waikato. With classes running six hours a day Monday to Friday and the expectation of extra study on top, Jo believes it's her best chance to develop a good understanding and the ability to kōrero.

“Full-time study and parenting is a juggling act and sometimes things fall by the wayside, like housework, exercise and a social life! But the rewards will be worth it.”

Jo admits that learning a language as an adult is a struggle but she’s inspired by her fellow classmates and their kaiako who she describes as knowledgeable teachers.

"Our class is an example of a whakataukī in action," Jo says. "Poipoia te kakano kia puawai - nurture the seed and it will blossom."

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